After getting stiffed at Christmas, a psycho kid orders a hit on Santa

Film by Jorge Ignacio Castillo

Fatman / VOD / Opens Nov. 24 / 2 out of 5

Following numerous scandals, Mel Gibson finds himself in a purgatory of sort: not quite written off like Kevin Spacey or Woody Allen, but definitely not an A-lister. However, he has found a couple of above-average projects that have kept him relevant — the ultra-violent romps Dragged Across Concrete and Blood Father, both reminiscent of Charles Bronson at his most ruthless and morally suspect.

Fatman follows a similar pattern, even though it doesn’t reach the same heights. A Christmas movie in the same way Die Hard qualifies as one, Fatman sees Gibson play Chris Cringle (yes, with a “C”). Like Billy Bob Thornton in Bad Santa, Gibson’s Santa Claus is more bitter than jolly, and is struggling to make ends meet.

In this universe, Santa’s operation is subsidized by the U.S. government, and sponsoring social programs is not in Uncle Sam’s bag anymore. Even in dark times, Chris remains a stickler for the rules and makes sure bad kids get a lump of coal. Unfortunately, one of the brats on the naughty list has deep pockets (think Patrick Bateman as a tween) and hires an assassin to get back at the old man.

A pointless subplot involving the Army subcontracting Cringle to manufacture weaponry is an excuse to push the movie further into the naughty column. Although there is some fun to be had comparing and contrasting soldiers to Santa’s elves.

While the general concept works, and there are bright spots here and there (Marianne Jean-Baptiste as Ruth Cringle softens Gibson’s edge in multiple ways), Fatman can’t overcome budget limitations to sustain the high wire act. There are surprisingly few special effects, but the semi-gritty approach doesn’t really work when Santa remains a magical figure — as grumpy and disenchanted as he may be.

The film’s greatest asset is Walton Goggins as a disgruntled believer turned gun-for-hire. Goggins doesn’t do half-assed, even in a gig as absurd as this one. His intensity amps up the hilarity of the situation. Too bad the movie around him doesn’t rise to the same level.